Introduce children to astronomy by looking at the stars and planets through a telescope. ATTRIBUTION: Ryan Wick (Flickr)

Get kids excited about science, the universe, and all of the objects in it: April 29 marks Astronomy Day in the United States! This annual event encourages families to participate in some stargazing while learning about celestial objects and phenomena. I’ve found that the best way to celebrate astronomy with children is to do some hands-on activities to make learning fun.

Observe the Night Sky

Many children are curious about the universe. Establish the basics of astronomy by exploring the nighttime sky with your kids in your own backyard. If you look at the sky several nights in a row, you’ll notice that it looks different each night. The stars may be brighter, or the moon may appear larger. If possible, set up a telescope to give your kids a closer look at objects in space.

Paint a Picture

Allow your child to paint what they see: Set up an easel in the backyard and have your child paint pictures of the night sky. Teach them some fun facts while you help them with their painting: For example, you can show your child how to create texture on the moon by dabbing the paper with the end of a blunt-tipped paintbrush. This texture represents the craters found on the moon, which were formed when asteroids and meteoroids collided with its surface.

Hunt for Constellations

On a night when the sky is clear, head outside to look for constellations. Share fun information with your child about how certain constellations are named after mythological characters, animals, or objects. If you’re having trouble finding these groupings of stars, print a map of the sky as it appears where you are. You can also find apps that use your phone’s camera to identify what’s in the sky above you.

Make a Telescope

Help your child build their own telescope with which to use to explore the night sky. To create a basic telescope, have your child paint two paper towel rolls. Once dry, cut one tube lengthwise and curl one end slightly over the other. Tape the ends together. Insert the taped tube into the uncut tube. It should fit snugly but still slide in and out. Tape a convex lens to the end of each tube. Slide the inner tube in and out to focus.

Identify the Moon Phases

The moon passes through eight different phases in any given month. These phases change as the moon orbits around the earth. To help your child better understand these phases, use Oreo cookies to represent the different phases. For example, a whole, untouched cookie would mimic a new moon, while a cookie half with the left side snapped off would look like a first-quarter moon.

Build a Rocket

Many children dream of becoming astronauts. Spark your child’s interest in outer space by building and launching a rocket in your backyard. To build a basic water rocket, fill a 2-liter soda bottle a third of the way full with water. Insert a cork with a basketball inflation needle poked through it into the opening of the bottle. Set the bottle in a cardboard box with the bottom of the bottle pointing up. Attach the needle to a bike pump and pump air into the bottle. Once enough pressure builds up, the cork and water will shoot out and the rocket will shoot up into the sky.